San Francisco chefs have been influential in defining the modern restaurant scene, and they are constantly evolving within it. The three venues profiled here are offshoots from well-regarded chefs who are serving a taste of their cuisine in a more casual setting than their fine-dining flagships. These spots masquerade as wine bars, but the food is still ambitious. Guests can go for a quick bite and a drink or partake in a full gastronomic experience with great wine to match.
Beneath the skyscrapers of San Francisco’s Financial District sits Verjus, a sophisticated spin-off of Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner Quince from owners Michael and Lindsay Tusk. The sleek space evokes the French caves à manger, with a side where guests can buy to-go items or order a casual glass and a bite, and another that’s reserved for more formal dining.
A movie marquee displays daily offerings. The French-focused fare includes light noshes such as an anchovy salad with shaved radishes, fennel, salsa rossa and croutons, as well as larger items such as whole-sole meunière. While the food is refined, the dining experience is casual and lively. The adventurous, mostly French wine list has more than 400 selections and emphasizes under-the-radar wineries and natural wines. There are a few pricey options, but overall there’s ample value, like the hidden Loire gem Domaine des Hauts Baigneux Touraine Clos de Brancs 2015 for $58.
Inspired by a 1930s Parisian salon, Bar Crenn is an offshoot of chef Dominique Crenn’s Atelier Crenn, a Best of Award of Excellence winner. The Cow Hollow neighborhood bar is quiet, relaxed and inviting despite the lavish decor. Fur, leather and leopard print, crystal chandeliers, ornate menus and intricate plating are essential to the vibe—as is the attentive, thoughtful and unobtrusive service.
Come thirsty for Champagne: 20% of the more than 200 offerings is devoted to bubbles, from the well-known Krug to the boutique Jacques Selosse. The rest of the list remains heavy on French selections, complemented by picks from California, Italy and beyond. The food, classic French with some twists, is remarkable for its precision and simplicity. A recent dish included squash blossom tempura filled with spot prawn and accompanied by a zucchini and saffron puree, citrus ginger foam and purslane. Crenn’s brioche—a recipe handed down from her grandmother—is a fluffy, buttery indulgence that is not to be missed.
CHE FICO ALIMENTARI
This eatery seamlessly blends the feel of a neighborhood grocery with a wine bar you might stumble upon down a side street in Rome. Instead, it’s on a busy street in the Western Addition neighborhood, downstairs from sister restaurant Che Fico. To-go Italian pantry items and wines adorn shelves on the entirety of one wall; an open kitchen with bar seats lies on the other side of the narrow dining room.
From Che Fico partners David Nayfeld, Angela Pinkerton and Matt Brewer, Alimentari has a larger wine list, at 200 selections, and its menu of rustic Italian fare is small but doesn’t skimp on flavor, with classics like cacio e pepe and rigatoni all’Amatriciana. There’s a good use of acidity and spice, as with the punchy, lemon-accented shelling beans served with green garlic sausage and summer savory. The almost exclusively Italian wine list includes classics like Produttori del Barbaresco and trendy picks like ArPePe.